Do-Chu-Sei: Quietude in Turmoil

Calligraphy: "Do-Chu-Sei"


Remaining calm in the middle of chaos.

Do-Chu-Sei as a concept comes from 3 Japanese characters:

  • Do (動), as in movement,
  • Chu (中), as in inside, center, and;
  • Sei (静), as in silence, calm, stillness, or quietude.

This concept is used in Aikido to describe the state of “being calm while in motion” or,  a state of “quietude in the midst of action”.

From Reactivity to Serenity

Some refer to this phenomenon as “zen in motion”. It is a mental poise expressed through the body’s movement. It is the ability to stay calm, still, and centered. This quality cannot be achieved overnight. It is a result of years and years of dedicated and sincere training. Some of us experience a flash of it every now and then, and lucky are the ones who have mastered maintaining a smooth and calm demeanor in the buffeting winds of uncertainty.

Seishiro Endo Shihan, 8th Dan

Seishiro Endo Shihan, 8th Dan Photo Credit: Portrait Life Photography

In Aikido, we seek to change our behavior from reactivity to serenity and internal fortitude. If you watch the older Aikido practitioners, people who have spent all their lives practicing Aikido, I urge you to look at their faces while they are doing their waza. They are looking but not looking.  They do not seem to be focused on any one thing, yet they know exactly what is going on all the time.  Try looking closely at their expressions, calm yet fully aware, they seem timeless and ageless, giving us glimpses of an enlightened peace.



It is important to keep the mind empty. One venue where we can gauge how we are doing in developing this concept is during taninzugake (multiple attacker practice). In the physical practice of taninzugake, one must not get caught up in the technique. Spontaneity is the name of the game.

Roberto Martucci Sensei. 6th Dan

Roberto Martucci Sensei. 6th Dan

You cannot say, “When he attacks, I will execute a sharp and elegant hijikime osae. Then after him , I can do a kotegaeshi on that one.” Instead,

You just let the technique come to you.

If you get caught up in the technique, you blunt your perception, delay your capacity to adapt, limit flexibility, and eventually, compromise your timing and your efficiency to deal with the attacks.

This thinking what to do and planning to do when you are already face-to-face with an attack might only take a split second, but it could turn out to be the split second difference between life and death. In the words of O’Sensei:

“Always imagine yourself on the battlefield under the fiercest attack; never forget this crucial element of training.”

Instead of thinking, it is better to open your mind and widen perception. Aikido training nurtures an expansion of awareness. By making the assessment and perception of the situation integral to the practitioner, we seek to make our movement instantaneous.

It is good to be reminded however that in all of this, all actions must be sincerely tempered by love, and not doing techniques out of anger, out of fear, out of insecurity and most especially, not because you are left with no choice. There is always a choice.

 An  Impeccable Foundation in the Basics (Kihon)

We cannot be discussing concepts all the time. Especially for beginners, basic movements, basic forms. Beginners should immerse themselves in the study of these; until the time comes that doing them is second nature.  All techniques in Aikido are based on the basics.  To achieve spontaneity and improve, we need to have a solid foundation to build from. The secrets of Aikido are revealed in the basic forms, if we know what to look for. The more a person trains, the less is left to chance.

Ikkyo. Takeya Tatsumi, 4th Dan. Photo Credit: Aikido Heiseikai Ritto Dojo

Ikkyo. Takeya Tatsumi, 4th Dan. Photo Credit: Aikido Heiseikai Ritto Dojo

We should also train in order to practice what we preach. I can write about all kinds of things here while discussing these concepts, but if in my practice I cannot express them physically, all my talk is worthless lip-service.  Especially in Aikido, I strongly believe that being able to do what you say is the most fundamental proof of understanding. Understanding begins with the basics; and without understanding, you can never improve.

When a person has prepared well for something, he has done everything he can. When it matters, he can rest assured of this fact, and will find it easier to remain calm, let go of doubts and fears, trust his training, and act. In the words of Louis Pasteur:

“Fortune favors the prepared mind.”

 Regular training gives you courage to calmly face the unknown. There is no substitute to practice and  regular training, especially with regard to basic forms.

 Inner Stillness

The only constant is change. The reality is, we have very little control of anything and everything that happens to us. It is wiser, then, to break free from trying to control things and instead, focus on how to skillfully adapt to change. The state of Do-Chu-Sei is not a momentary disposition. This quality is supposed to be part of a person’s character, inside and outside the mats. It is a result of having a spirit that is at peace with nature, at peace with movement, and at peace with change.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. -Desiderata, 1927

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. -Desiderata, 1927

On the mats and in real life, possessing the ability to anchor on a stable center within us is key to achieving this internal calm. We should always be connected with our center, our “Inner Stillness”. This ability to remain centered in the middle of the surrounding disarray is the essence of Do-Chu-Sei, of moving meditiation. It is  the day-to-day expression of inner peace.



(Please also see: “Zanshin“, “Fudoshin“, and “Mushin“)


“Ssshhh… I will tell you a secret. For me, it’s Shihonage.”

Shihonage by Moriteru Ueshiba Doshu

Shihonage. Tori: Moriteru Ueshiba Doshu

“Slow is good. No need to be fast. The speed will come when you need it.” 

That was what my teacher said. We were practicing Shihonage.

Shihonage is the four-direction throw. It is based on how fighters long ago used to bow toward the East, North, West and South before and after a fight (I think Muay Thai and Sumo arts still bow to the four directions until now).  Sometimes, it is also called the four corner-throw. Everything that Aikido is based on can be found in Shihonage. According to an account written by Gozo Shioda, O’Sensei said that:

Shihonage is the foundation of Aikido. All you ever need to master is Shihonage”.

One of the reasons why Shihonage has a very special place in my heart is because it was the very first technique my teacher taught me. I still remember it very clearly. Katatedori gyaku hanmi Shihonage omote. Looking back at the beginner that I was, we paid close attention to starting out footwork. I got easily lost the minute the hanmi changed. I counted the steps and turned awkwardly. I kept losing my balance and kept getting my face in the way of my partner’s fist. Sometimes, I bumped into him. I couldn’t get it right. Sensei was a patient man. I do not doubt that my clumsy attempts were any good at all. But he was right there along with me guiding me to get it right.

Hanmi-Handachi Shihonage. Tori: Tada Hiroshi shihan

Hanmi-Handachi Shihonage. Tori: Tada Hiroshi Shihan

“Ma-ai.” He says. “You get a fist if you do not understand ma-ai.” Outbalance upon entering.“Maintain your partner’s being off-balance throughout the entire technique.“I can still hear his voice in my mind when I slip up and do not get it right every now and then.“Do not pause when you pivot. One continuous motion from start to finish!”Poor bumbling newbie, I thought would never get the hang of it.

Personally, Shihonage always reminds me of cutting down with a sword. I like to practice with the bokken and cutting in four or eight directions when I am alone and have no partner to practice with. The cutting and turning with the bokken exercise lends itself well to refining most techniques, but the particular one that comes to my mind is Shihonage. Breathing with my sword strokes also helps in keeping me aware of the rising and dropping motions.

Shihonage should not be unreasonable or forced.

I think you have to segue into Shihonage, flow into it from the attack, very much like Kaitenage. When I practice it, I become conscious of where my hips are and to where they are facing. I become aware of a drop in my center when I cut down. In practicing Shihonage, I also become very much aware of Ma-ai, because, yes, I do get a fist in my face or walk into a face slap if I do not pay attention to it.

Shihonage. Tori: Yaushito Irie Sensei, 5th Dan (Photo Credit: Aikido Tada-Juku Irie Dojo)

Shihonage. Tori: Yasuhito Irie Sensei, 5th Dan (Photo Credit: Aikido Tada-Juku Irie Dojo)

Then there is the direction of the throw. When I was starting out, I learned the one where you cut down directly in front of you. As I got more exposed to other versions, I learned them too. Sometimes, one teacher will teach the cutting down version, other times, another teacher will teach throwing your uke away version. I was so confused, because at that time, I thought there was only one correct way to do it! Oh my goodness! Was I totally wrong! There’s a whole lot of Shihonages out there, for as many as there are people practicing them and making it work for them. And, I want to learn them all!

Once, while I was performing Shihonage, I felt my arms were too short. They were already extended, but uke was still there. When my teacher saw the look of confusion on my face, he just said, “Move your body, not your arms. Move as one, every part of you, move forward. Slide.” Ahhh, so that’s how it goes. We throw with our whole body, not just the arms. We move from the center, whole body as one, to throw uke! (Imagine that light bulb going ding-ding-ding in my head.)

One tip I learned from someone close to me is that if you are dizzyingly confused, always go back to the very basic form and the prevailing principles that govern your Aikido and work your way up again. Or you can go back to the weapons where the movement was based.  If you base Shihonage on the sword, you throw uke downward like a sword cut, taking advantage of its cutting edge.  If you base it on the jo, you throw uke out, like the sweeping of the jo, taking advantage of its long reach.

Personally, I believe it is important in Shihonage to consider the quality of the connection you establish between you and your partner; tori and uke as one, bringing each other to the best position to complete the throw. 

Teaching Shihonage. Tori: Hiroshi Tada Shihan (Photo Credit: Aikido Tada-Juku Irie Dojo)

Teaching Shihonage. Tori: Hiroshi Tada Shihan (Photo Credit: Aikido Tada-Juku Irie Dojo)

My teacher also showed me how to take care of my partner who was on the receiving end of the technique. I liked how he emphasized my partner’s safety as well as my own. He said he wanted me to still have partners for the next day, and the next, so I must take good care of them, make sure I do not injure them or wear them out. I thought it was funny, the way he put it like that, but now, ah, I understand, that part of Aikido is respect and loving kindness.

To this day, whenever Shihonage is demonstrated and taught for practice, it always makes me feel like there is something wonderful ahead, just around the four corners. Something new maybe, or an old familiar reliable form? Four directions can easily become eight, and all the eight directions can even become infinite.  In a way, then, Shihonage is limitless.

Students Training Shihonage. Photo Credit: Aikido Tada-Juku Irie Dojo

Students Training Shihonage. Photo Credit: Aikido Tada-Juku Irie Dojo

I like Shihonage. Maybe because it was the very first technique I learned. Maybe because I feel very efficient doing it. Maybe because it was one of the first techniques that really opened up Aikido for me. Or maybe, because it very closely resembles a dance move of which I have no aptitude for.

Do you have a particular technique that is secretly your favorite?


(Please also see: “Should Aikido be Effective?“)

A Deeper Look into Ma-ai

Space: “The final frontier”.
But I mean another kind of space. I mean Ma-ai.

Leonardo Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.

Ma-ai is defined as space, distance, reach or interval. When I was beginning Aikido, my partner and I used to stretch out our arms in full extension and touch fingertip to fingertip. And that was that. Ma-ai was that simple. Then we would proceed to practice our strikes and tai-sabaki drills, stop when the teacher signaled to stop, measure fingertips then begin again. In our pairwork, the teacher would come around and remind us to be always aware of our safe distance, our Ma-ai.

In my trying to understand the concept and practice of Ma-ai, the elements of not only distance, but also speed, timing, and reach also came up. These elements define Ma-ai, but still, there is more to it than that. Because Ma-ai also expands and contracts. Because Ma-ai is also dependent on intuition for intent. Isn’t there Ma-ai in personal space in relation to safety too?  What exactly, then, is Ma-ai? 

Back to Basics

In Aikido, Ma-ai is the proper distance between you and  training partner, that he has to take a step to complete the distance to be able to reach you. But now, I have come to realize that it is in fact, not as simple as the definition given to me many, many years ago.

Motohiro Fukakusa Shihan; 35th Anniversary of the Hong Kong Aikido Association.

Motohiro Fukakusa Shihan; 35th Anniversary of the Hong Kong Aikido Association.

Ma-ai is the interval between parties, the distance of engagement; in other traditional martial arts like kendo and karate,  it is the spatial relationship between oneself and the opponent, and is usually classified into three kinds, dependent on the distance as the sole parameter for the time it would take for one to reach the other with his blade or strike:

Tō-ma- the long interval or distance, where it would take you further and longer to reach your opponent,
Itto-ma– the one step – one sword distance, where it would take just a step and a slash to reach your opponent, and;
• Chikama– the short distance, where you are already within each others space.

Ma-ai in Speed and Timing

Aside from physical distance, one’s Ma-ai is also dependent on the speed of each of the participants as well as how they time their movements.  Sometimes, in my mind, I picture two equally skilled swordsmen in a frozen -in-time face off, each of them waiting for the right time and each equally hoping, he will be the faster.  The faster and more well-timed his entry or attack, the more chances he will have of  overcoming the other.


At other times, I also imagine a different scenario: Imagine yourself as a swordsman fighting a duel with another swordsman whom we know is younger, faster, and more skilled than you are. Doesn’t his Ma-ai seem bigger than yours?

Speed and Timing, and our understanding and capacity for it in relation to the attacker affects our Ma-ai as well.

Ma-ai Contracts and Expands

Ma-ai stretches, expands and contracts.  This is dependent on the reach of the weapons we are holding and the capacity for speed and timing both parties have in a given martial encounter. When you are holding a sword and your partner is empty handed, both your personal space and reach are totally different.

Bukiwaza; Morihiro Saito Sensei

Bukiwaza; Morihiro Saito Shihan.

The one holding a sword would have a longer reach, and the empty-handed one a shorter reach. Knowing this, both  sides adjust so that each maintains  a safe distance. As an application, in the case of a bat-wielding assailant and a sledge-hammer wielding opponent, their Ma-ai would also have to consider the heft and damage and speed with which they can wield their weapons.  (I’m just playing around with scenarios in my head, I’ve never seen these two people in a real life face off.)

This concept also extends to the actual application of techniques. For example, in the engagement of  a throwing technique in Aikido, we lead our partner to open up a space for us to enter. As we move, we already set them up for the throw.  Here, we are actually using our understanding of how Ma-ai contracts and expands to our advantage.  The awareness of  its perimeters allows us to constantly keep ourselves almost within reach but just a hair out of reach, so that their intention to get to us is not broken.  We use that intent to connect with them, leading them into the ideal situation for us to throw them.

When you have a great partner who understands this, you both enjoy the game of leading, setting up, trying to break out of the set up and afterwards, you both enjoy a good laugh.  I love it when this happens!

Ma-ai and Intention

lovehateMa-ai can also determined by how you understand intent. When you know you will be safe, your Ma-ai gets shorter. When you sense harmful intent, you keep a controlled and well monitored distance, preferably longer and further than the reach and speed of the other being in question.

So, you have family, who you know will always be there for you, love you, care for you.  Your Ma-ai keeps them as close as you want them to be.  You have work mates, they watch your back or stab you in the back, depending on your work relationship with them and you adjust your distance with them, too.  You have the cat-calling strangers who stand on the corner, and you hold on to your mace and give them a wide berth.

Sensing Personal Space and  Safety

In animal behavior and human psychology, the levels of how close a person can get to another person or being is dependent on how safe the other feels within the company of that person. That is Ma-ai, too. This is the concept of personal space. Have you ever been in a very crowded train? How did it feel being squeezed in with total strangers?

Crowded Tokyo Subway. Photo Credit: Michael Wolf

Crowded Tokyo Subway. Photo Credit: Michael Wolf

I remember in the classroom, one of my teachers managed our unruly class of young adolescent 14 year old girls through intimidation by proximity.  If she even suspected something fishy, she would situate herself right beside the suspected perpetrator of mischief.  It worked. She was a wonderful teacher because she excited our minds and made us want to learn more, yet also maintained discipline without breaking our spirit.  This simple tactic is still being used everywhere.  The police presence in the current neighborhood where I live now, is a reflection that Ma-ai in this form still works.

It does not seem positive to exert mental intimidation and use the role of fear to expand Ma-ai, but because it does happen, and it is being used, I guess, I have to consider it just to be fair.  There are some areas where you are not allowed to enter due to safety reasons.  Areas so heavily patrolled and secured that it makes you wonder, “what’s in there?”

There are people who have “levels of security clearances”, too.  Some can enter restricted or intimate space, and others cannot.  For safety reasons, of course. In a way, being able to isolate and distance these areas are ways Ma-ai is used to manage and restrict access.

woman-readingIn trying to look at maintaining distance, I too have to consider the emotional connection or disconnection of people.

There also exists “the me time”.  you know, that time when you just want to be left alone.  This usually happens when you are pondering some great question or enjoying a moment of precious solitude.   This is important, too,  and our life partners understand that sometimes, we just need to disconnect from the world and be alone with our thoughts, musings and day dreams.  Or when I need to write about something, I like to be all alone. This, also is a part of Ma-ai, for me.

I have no capacity to become a veterinarian.  The reason being, I would break every time I lose a patient. I admire the professionals and their nurturing and caring for the weak, the sick, and the disadvantaged.  They have reached a level of maintaining a distance that would also protect them from breaking every time they lose a battle with disease, a patient, a charge.

Then, there are the naturally existing creatures who are just inherently wild.  Wild things that will not be tamed would maintain a wider circle of awareness and guardedness than a pet. Here, too, is seeing an awareness of Ma-ai in action.

“But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love; let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls” Kahlil Gibran

“But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love; let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls”
~Kahlil Gibran

The way I understand it, Ma-ai is the sum total of all these elements so that we have a harmonious space to live in. But, even still, I do not think it is as simple as that. It is a good definition, but I found it wanting. There was that niggling feeling inside me, like a wriggling worm of a feeling that still there is more to Ma-ai. After much thinking and re-thinking about this concept, it finally dawned on me:

Perhaps, Ma-ai is a relationship.

Yes, it is basically simply stated as distance, but it is also affected by your relationship with the other, it is about you and about the other, your circumstances individually, together and toward each other. It is your connection as a whole.

In understanding Ma-ai as a relationship of people and space, when I roll this idea around in my head, practice maintaining Ma-ai with this in my heart, mind and soul- I feel at peace with it. Maybe, personally, this is the right definition of Ma-ai for me.


(Please also see: “Balance“)

Home Land


Lush and green, Quilted
Rice paddies and Sugarcane fields.

Wet and humid
Mountains, jungle-dressed.
Green Land and Blue Sea.

White sand and black shores
White crested waves
Draped on pink and coral sands.

Brown people singing
Sweet songs
Of love, family, life.

Volcano riddled
Earthquake region.

Flooding and typhoon region.
Strong people smiling
Thru it all.

Wandering souls.
Come home.

Aikido: Learning from Nature

Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba O'Sensei waters flowers.

Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei waters flowers.

Man is a naturally curious creature. We have stared up at the heavens and the stars for centuries. We have mapped the constellations and land masses and ocean floors. We have even mapped the moon. We are curious about why something happens and we want to know how it happens. Some of us spend lifetimes and careers observing, documenting, and graphing natural phenomena and the earth’s creatures who live in it with us.

I, personally, could just spend hours sitting perfectly still in a quiet, secluded forest watching its denizens go about their daily forest life. And those hours, for me, would be considered a well-spent investment for my peace of mind and personal well-being.

What keeps everything so interesting is how we observe these things and the questions we ask ourselves, which then lead us to further studies.

Observation is one of our most powerful tools in being able to study, adapt, and survive living in this world. It is used in the scientific and experimental methodologies, as well as in socio- cultural and anthropological studies. Without observation, we would not have lasted this long as a species. Without observation, we wouldn’t have known that hungry carnivores don’t care where their meat is coming from or that a great mass hurtling at us at a great speed can cause extreme trauma and devastating damage.

O'Sensei, looking at a tree.

O’Sensei, looking at a tree.

The world around us is our teacher and our school. Nature does not discriminate the strong from the weak minded. She just goes ahead and lays out her lessons for us to learn from. Nature is always there, 24/7. She’s never had a day off from work. She caters to all levels of fluency and she doesn’t care whether you even speak or do sign language instead. She is a tireless and all encompassing teacher.

It is all up to us to observe, to learn, adapt or die.

In the martial arts, there are many allusions to Nature. Some martial arts are tied to the five elements in the Orient. Earth, Water, Fire, Metal and Wind. And of course, the great Empty ( the Null). Other martial art forms have more bestial connections, most probably because the animals can be observed more easily than the elements.

For example, in popular kung-fu/shao-lin movies I used to watch (and still watch, as a guilty pleasure), there are all these styles named after animals. There are the crane style, the tiger, the monkey, the mantis, the eagle and so on. These animal forms reflect and seem to emulate the animals for which they have been named. They magnify the advantages and characteristics of that particular animal and develop qualities in the practitioner that reflects it.

For instance, the tiger style seeks to develop power in its strikes and its movement. It teaches the practitioner to be aggressive in his attacks and defenses, while the mantis develops an agile and swift execution of the style. It is believed that the more fluent you are in all the forms, the more a well-rounded, well-adjusted person develops.

Morihei Ueshiba O'Sensei and the tree.

Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei and the tree.

For the monks to create these styles, it implies that they have spent not just hours and hours of observation, practice and development, but centuries.

In Aikido, a much younger martial art, we also learn through observation, practice, understanding, exploring, building up, breaking down and creating adaptations. The first skill as a beginner I wish white belts would pay more attention to would be developing their perceptual abilities. It is too easy to be blinded by the glamour of the techniques, and much more difficult to pay attention to the mundane exercises leading up to the techniques.

We need visual acuity to be able to perceive the progress and execution of the technique at work. To see in detail what is going on in motion and in static form is as important as being able to do it. By learning to observe demonstrations properly, we file away in our “little gray cells” bits and pieces of information that do not make sense at present, but might light the eureka bulb in us later on.

As an Aikidoka we need to be able to also be kinesthetically perceptive. Learning while feeling and doing lets us get the feel of what is right and what works. We learn to recognize and observe the patterns in the drills and the techniques and we repeat them to gain fluency.

Morihei Ueshiba O'Sensei, Kiai.

Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei, Kiai.

But then, is it also important to reflect where these forms and patterns came from? What in Nature do these forms and patterns remind us of? Did nature inspire the technique, or does the technique reflect nature? Doesn’t really matter, or does it?

For long-practicing Aikdoka, sometimes, when we look at a picture of Nature or see Nature in action, we are immediately reminded of a particular technique.
Sometimes, our bodies are too beat up to take keiko, but we still want to do Aikido. Times like these, we need to listen to our bodies and let Nature show us the way she wants to go. We can still practice, experience, explore Aikido in Nature. That’s the beauty of it all.

Nature is there all the time so we can practice Aikido all the time, anytime.

small_waves_1920x1200Consider this exercise with the sea as your partner: When we look at the waves of the ocean, we see their motion. We can see how the wave is formed and how it rolls. When we get into the water, we feel its rolling and withdrawing and surging. We see it, we feel it, we taste it and move with it. We even hear the slap-slapping of the waves on the sand and on the rocks. It is all around us. It could be a gentle teacher or a ruthless one. How we greet it and perceive it depends entirely up to us. By experiencing this body of water, certain Aikido exercises and techniques come to mind because of its familiar feel.

We associate the experience with certain movements. And there in our associations and perceptions lies the jewel of a lesson we have been observing in Nature all along.

Then the questions come rolling in…and we find the meaning and the purpose in our observations, and we set the directions towards further learning, because we are naturally curious, and Nature is calling.


(Please also see: “Aikido: Everything is a Gift“)


Let go and Let’s Go

let go let's go

We have worn a rut in doing routine.
But there is more out there
To be learned and explored.
We don’t know.
We don’t know.

And so we clutch at straws to Life,
Gathering mementos that remind us of happier times.
We cling to the familiar, close and dear;
Foregoing chances for the unknown
to make themselves known.
Maybe in fear.
Maybe in sloth.

There lies the horizon,
Drawing our gaze, calling to our wild inner selves:
Let go the straws,
Let go the familiar,
The way back to it, you already know.
Let’s go!

The future teems with all that can be.
All possibilities spread out before you.

Let go your ego.
Let go and let’s go!


How can I write where there is no rhythm?
What words will come to me tonight?
Construct a verse and thought on paper,
Line by line by rhyme by early morning light.

How shall I phrase the strident keening
Of a lost and sorrowful bewildered heart,
Lay witness and testimony grieving
The loss of music, life and art?

Mourn dearly and pine away in wanting,
My muses and princes of the mind.
Desert my creative space and window;
Now I get nothing, nothing, nothing of any kind.